The best way to care for your skin is to understand why its protection is so vital to our health and beauty.
The key points? Ultraviolet rays, dry skin, poor diet = bad. Moisturizers, balancing foods with certain vitamins, strong sunscreen and self-tanners = good. Let’s start at the beginning.
SKIN SCIENCE 101
Not only is your skin an organ just like the heart or liver, it’s the largest organ you have. Skin is made up of thousands of cells and hundreds of sweat and oil glands, nerve endings and blood vessels. It consists of two main layers: the epidermis and the dermis [see the Skin Science Definitions sidebar below].
The epidermis contains melanin, which is one of two pigments that determines skin colour. Melanin is found in certain types of skin cells called melanosomes. All the beautiful shades of human beings are a result of the number, size and distribution of the melanosomes. Another important skin component is collagen, which is the protein in your skin. Over exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause collagen to break apart, which causes sagging, lines and wrinkles later on.
MOISTURIZING FOR THE MASSES
Now that you’re a skin science expert, it’s on to the all mighty power of moisturizing, which is one of the secret weapons to beautiful skin (keep reading to find out the other secret weapon). Many people include facial and body cream in their daily skin care routine, but have you ever wondered why? Moisturizers enhance and preserve the barrier of your skin, otherwise called lipids. You’ve heard the analogy of the brick wall? The skin cells are the bricks and the lipids are the mortar. If there are holes in the mortar the wall will leak. Basically, facial and body creams fill those holes and keep the moisture from escaping!
HEALTHY SKIN FROM THE INSIDE
Moisturizing keeps skin looking good from the outside, but how can you take care of it from the inside? Certain foods contain the vitamins A, E and C, which are all directly related to healthy skin. Dark coloured orange fruits and veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, apricots, cantaloupe and peaches are high in vitamin A, which is great for maintaining healthy skin. Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant and helps protect skin cells from damage. Nuts, wheat germ, whole grains and leafy green veggies are an excellent source. Remember collagen? The building blocks of your skin?
Vitamin C is great for forming collagen and can be found in red berries, kiwi, broccoli, red and green peppers and juices like grapefruit and orange. One word of warning: if you’re going to take a vitamin supplement, always check with your doctor to find out what’s best for you. If you’re on acne medication, too much vitamin A can be harmful because acne prescriptions are already vitamin A-fortified.
And, although you probably know this by now, eating chocolate and fried foods won’t give you acne. It’s not so much what you’re eating, but what you’re not eating. If you’re munching on candy and chips, you aren’t getting any of the vitamins that encourage healthy skin. It’s common sense, really. So if you’re going to eat a bag of chips, drink some O.J. or eat a peach. It’s all about balance.
HOW THE SUN CAN DAMAGE YOUR SKIN
If you continually go out in the sun without proper protection, your skin will reflect the damage of ultraviolet rays. When you get a tan it means you’ve also got some sun damage (obviously a burn means major damage!). A tan is your body’s way of responding to an injury: the harmful ultraviolet rays activate the skin’s melanin (your body’s protective pigment against the sun), and turns the melanin brown, creating a tan. Some areas of your skin may react differently to sun damage, appearing blotchy and dry in certain areas; this is due to the unpredictability of the sun and your skin.
So should you stay indoors and hide from the sun? No way! It’s all right to be in the sun as long as you always use sunscreen with a high SPF and follow these sun skin care rules:
FIVE SKIN CARE RULES
1. Hydration is very important because dehydration leaves your skin vulnerable to the drying effects of the sun. Drink water and moisturize.
2. If you’re going to be in the water, wear waterproof sunscreen. Simple.
3. Be aware of your skin type. If you burn easily, slather on the SPF 45. Even if you have dark skin and never burn, you still need at least an SPF 20.
4. Apply sunscreen properly. Follow the ‘quarter’ rule: use a quarter-sized amount of sunscreen to each quarter of your body. You may want to use a higher SPF on your face and neck. Reapply every 4-6 hours.
5. Indulge in self-tanners. We all want a healthy summer glow; it’s just smarter to get it from a bottle instead of potentially damaging the skin you need for life.
You’ll thank yourself in thirty years. If you start protecting your skin from the sun now, you’ll increase your chances of beautiful, healthy skin when you’re older, not to mention decrease your chances of getting skin cancer.
Skin Science Definitions
Collagen: the protein in your skin; one of the main ‘building blocks’ of your skin.
Dermis: the thicker inner layer of the skin; connective tissue containing nerve endings.
Epidermis: the thinner outer layer of the skin; contains melanin.
Lipids: the barrier of the skin.
Melanin: pigment that adds brown colouring to skin; absorbs ultraviolet rays and protects skin from sun damage.
Melanosomes: skin cells where melanin is found; the more melanosomes, the darker the skin.
Pigmentation: the colouring that occurs in all animals and plants; in humans, carotene (yellow) and melanin (brown).